Airplane Thoughts

When I flew back to the U.S. last week (a casual 26-hour trip) I watched two films that were drastically different and yet exactly the same in their messages. One film was called Human Flow by Ai Weiwei and the other was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh. After I watched the first one, I cried a lot. And then I watched the second one and cried a lot too. And after I finished crying a lot, I thought a lot. 

What if we were raised in a culture of acceptance instead of in a world where “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are defined differently among people to the point where disagreement becomes disrespectful? 

I asked myself what it means to me to feel home in a place that was not always my home. I came to the U.S. seventeen years ago with my family, as an immigrant, and when I think about what that was like, and then I think about refugee families today and what it must be like for them, I feel so much pain. 

My wish would be for everyone who arrives in this country to find safety and feel home, but I know that not all do. I know that fear drives people to choose actions that are easily mistaken for reactions based on hate or judgement. But I also know that we, as humans, are inherently good, and that we are so capable of loving each other no matter where we come from. I know the latter is a stronger and better know, because that is the know that I lived. 

I arrived here at ten years old, and I felt accepted. I went to school and was approached politely by children wanting to be friends, despite the fact that my skin was darker and my eyes smaller. My teachers saw potential in me and guided and supported me genuinely. Strangers smiled at me and showed me kindness. Neighbors treated me as an equal neighbor. And it didn’t take long to feel home.

In Weiwei’s film I didn’t see much of my own story. I saw the version of mine that is a nightmare for me but a reality for others today. And no one deserves a reality like that. I don’t know the solution to the refugee crisis around the world, but I know what I can do and what I am willing to do. And it matters; small actions matter because in the end it is not about the action, but about the exchange between people.

After watching Three Billboards, I realized something that allowed for a new level of awareness in me: We need to get a head start in understanding and internalizing the idea that we are supposed to be in this together. That really is how simple it is. 

Both Three Billboards and Human Flow are talking about the same issue but framing it in different stories. In Three Billboards, the fighting parties come from the same place and are separated only by how they were raised and the roads between them. In Human Flow, they are separated by oceans and wars and cultures. Both are trying to tell us that we are separating ourselves from each other and it’s killing us. We’re nourishing hatred and bigotry and racism and ignorance and differences and we are choosing enemies in the people we share this Earth with. That’s not fair, and we have to fix it.

There is a quote in Human Flow that is important for the world to hear: “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” It shouldn’t be a challenge to meet our neighbors in the middle. It should be natural to our humanity.

In Three Billboards, Woody Harrelson says,Through love comes calm and through calm comes thought.” Love should be our first language as people. Love should be at the center of our existence, as individuals and as a species.

We are better than what we are doing to each other right now. We have to put it together, and we have to take it seriously. We need to choose love, and we need to choose it more often. 

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What It Means To Be A Human

Written December 2014

What it means to be human.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a blessing it is to be a human on this earth. The odds of being any other creature are pretty high. But you are reading this, meaning you are lucky enough to be a person (and probably an awesome one). I’m not sure anyone really knows what it means to be human, but these are my ideas.

Being human means understanding the beauty rooted deep in all places of this earth. It means being aware that you are just a visitor, and that you should respect the rest of whom and what you share this space with.

Being human means being intelligent enough to adapt to what’s around you. This ability is in you. Use it.

Being human means finding connections with other humans.

Being human means appreciating every type of environment. From soil to sand to dirt to gravel and all the way to hardwood and tile floors. Whether we are under a tree or a roof, we can’t ever forget where we started and how we got to where we are.

Being human means respecting each other and those we share the earth with. In Costa Rica, the love and respect that people have for nature is contagious. They recognize that we share this land, not just with other people, but with trees and sloths and snakes and spiders, and all in between. Being human should mean being humble, and not crowning ourselves entitled.

Being human means having the capacity to try new things, paired with the ability to decide whether we like it or not.

Being human means consuming so much knowledge at a rate where we should always want more.

Being human means taking advantage of our ability to travel the world and do all of the above. As people, we have this power to inspire and move and change and share and love and teach and create. With so much power, it’s easy to waste. Don’t.

Being human means knowing that every beginning has an end. But if there is sincerity in between, I hope I never regret it. At one point, every thing we had and every one we had meant something to each other, and in this life, that’s all we really seem to be looking for.

Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

Finding Balance in Intricacy

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

And so we are told this, again and again. As children, we hear it when we make mistakes we are too young to fix–like spilling milk or breaking a toy. In school, we hear it when we get an unexpected score on the test we thought we were ready for. At work, we hear it on the first day when we are lost and completely unsure of our responsibilities. And in life, we hear it from our friends and our parents and those who love us, in the moments we feel like we just don’t have it together.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is a simple fact. That’s the easy part.

What comes after mistakes are made is where the complications start. Black and white collide and simple facts are only simple from a certain point of view. While people make mistakes, the consequences can’t always be fixed. The milk can’t be cleaned, the toy can’t be fixed. The next test won’t up the average. And it’s not the first day of work. Not everything comes with second chances.

I’ve found that after making a mistake, there are two choices. Learn a lesson, or don’t.

Recently I made a mistake that opened my eyes to the importance of making mistakes: learning forgiveness. It is a complicated concept. Whether you are in the position to give or receive it, forgiveness requires practice. It requires patience. And it requires pain.

Through this mistake I discovered what it feels like to be denied forgiveness, and to lose someone as a result. I also learned that the power of forgiveness is in the hands of the forgiver. Understanding both sides of forgiveness is necessary in understanding that neither side is easy to be on.

Finding a safe balance comes in time, and we each find that balance at our own times and at our own pace. I found balance when I forgave myself. I made a mistake, and I learned from it. I lost someone as a result, but each day brings me closer to accepting that. Life is too unpredictable to deny forgiveness. Too short to regret. And all too wonderful to wallow.

 

How Lucky I Am

I wake up every day and tell myself that I am lucky. Probably the luckiest. And I should have posted this blog when I wrote it a month ago. But I’m lucky, not perfect.

_____

2014 was a weird one.

January was spent doing a lot of reading, a lot of research, a lot of writing, and a lot of asking myself why I decided to write an honors thesis. This first month gave no insight as to how interesting the year would be.

I spent February through April reminding myself that life is short and so is college. It was the time it took me to get over a three year relationship, and also to lose a friend.

I spent the month of May doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Like indulging in ice cream, drinking lots of beer, and kissing a cute boy or two.

June through August were three months of wandering a new city, adjusting to the life of a college grad, and discovering a pure hatred for cubicles.

September was a month of beginnings, where I explored a new job, a new relationship, and a few new hobbies.

In October and November, I spent a lot of time thinking about trust and people and what it means to put the two together. In the end, I found that the process of learning never ends, and that it’s okay to feel things, especially pain.

And here we are now, in December. I’ve just spent the last two weeks traveling through Central America, and I came home to discover that once again, an entire year has come and gone.

It’s always a unique feeling to be in the last few days of the year, stuck between reminiscing the last twelve months and trying to imagine the next. Time moves fast, and we grow exponentially lucky with each passing second. I hope to remember that for the rest of my life. And I hope that I can look back on each year and find my own seasons within the months, instead of what the calendar tells me.

2014—Things I Did And What I Learned From Them:

I said goodbye to my first love. It was eleven months ago and I still think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I learned how to love the fact that love for someone or something can continue even when it’s over.

I wrote a 200-page honors thesis. It wasn’t easy, but I loved it. And because I loved it, it was worth it.

I took up new hobbies and gained new skills. All it took was time.

I graduated college. We used to think it was cool to not do homework and be lazy in high school, but now I believe that learning is the best decision you will ever make.

I lost a friend over a disagreement and failure to understand each other. Not all friendships are meant to last, but all are meant to learn from.

I interviewed someone who inspires me. Dan Layus and I had a conversation about heartbreak in the most loving way because things are so good. “How could they be so good that it breaks my heart?”

I lived in a new city, and I learned that you can build a home anywhere.

I discovered a new love for running and mountains. There is something about the natural world that can make you feel more at home than four walls ever could.

I worked in an industry that I don’t really want to be in at all. I learned to learn what I don’t like. And that cubicles are the bane of my existence.

I welcomed a new life to the world, my first nephew, and remembered that life is precious.

I went to a TED conference. Ideas and people are more powerful than money.

I watched the sun rise and set as much as I could. This continues to teach me to never, ever take the familiar for granted.

I went bungee jumping. It was this surreal moment, in which I felt an unmistakeable combination of fear, adrenaline, and peace, all at once. During the free fall, I learned that this unnamed feeling is one that I need to chase forever.

I visited 2 new countries, 4 new states, 15 new cities. The world is big, and I will never get enough of it.

All in all, this year was one of discovery, and testing myself emotionally. While I learned plenty about myself, I also learned that there is much, much more to learn.

Not Your Average Post-Grad

One hundred and sixty days ago, I reached a milestone of my life that only about 7% of people achieve: college graduation. Since May, every new acquaintance I make and every old friend I see has asked, “Where do you work?” or “What are you doing now?”

Here’s my problem with that. Why do people think that every college graduate’s success is measured by whether or not they have a full-time job lined up as soon as they toss that graduation cap in the air?

To start, shouldn’t we take some time to celebrate the giant success that is earning a college degree? Shouldn’t we be asking grads what they want to do with their life, not with their degree? Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that finishing college is a major accomplishment to be immensely proud of. However, I also think that there is way more to my early twenties than competing for a job that secures my spot in a cubicle, likely next to a middle-aged someone who has been there since his or her own college graduation.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I will have a full-time job one day, and I will probably be starting in a cubicle. But it’s not going to be a job that I applied for just because society told me that it was supposed to be the next step in my life. It’s going to be a job that I want for myself; a job that makes me happy, that I earned, and that I love.

So, what do I say when people ask me where I work or what I’m doing now? Well. Where do I begin? Since college graduation, I discovered a new love for nature while hiking in the Alaskan mountains. I celebrated my birthday delivering letters to Senators’ offices on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., went on a road trip to upstate New York with my mom, prepared homemade lobster rolls in Maine, and attended my first Filipino opera. I also began training for a half marathon, assisted an event planner with a medical gala at Gotham Hall in New York City, and started teaching myself Korean.

“I’m just livin’,” I say. I’m doing things I love. I’m learning from others, and I’m teaching myself. I’m traveling. I’m reading books that I could never find the time to while in school. I’m finding ways to make and save money outside of the 9-5 confine. I’m spending time with people I care about. And I’m taking a step back from the pressure that seems to be pushing too many young professionals in directions that they aren’t even sure is right for them. Most importantly, I hope that I’m serving as a reminder that success doesn’t always have to come in the form of a resumè.

[My] 3 Stages of Break-up Grief

It’s the first week of my first break-up, so my feelings could not be more real or raw.  And I’ve found that it is moments like this when some of my best writing comes out.  Consider that a warning for what you might consider overdramaticism.  Yes I made that word up.

Additional disclaimers: 

“If you’re dating a writer and they don’t write about you — whether it’s good or bad — then they don’t love you.”

The world needs stories. And I want to tell them.

Sadness + Regret = Confusion

“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I hung up the phone.  The wound was fresh.  So fresh that I wanted nothing more than to take back our decision.  I wanted to make the 2 hour drive to his city just to say I changed my mind.  I felt regret immediately.

I cried myself to sleep.  And I told no one.  I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want it to be real.  When I woke up the next morning I think I forgot that it happened because I jumped out of bed and hopped onto my yoga mat, as I do every morning.  But then I sat down on the floor and saw the makeup that smeared on my pillowcase from the night before, and I remembered.  That’s when I spent the next seventy minutes crying.

Through the tears I saw the pictures on my wall of all the places in the world that I’ve visited.  All of the mornings and every moment before that one, I looked at those same pictures in awe and plain disbelief.  They amazed me every time, even more when I thought of the facts that I took those pictures and that I saw those places with my own eyes.  But that morning those pictures were nothing more than ordinary to me, and I didn’t care about them.

I knew things were very wrong because I have never not cared about my sacred wall of travel photos before.  That would be absurd.

And it was.  It was absurd.  The whole day was absurd.  I only told three people, and none of them could say anything right.  They tried to make me feel better but I didn’t.  I was surrounded by people whose job it was to support me, but when you lose a love like I did, there’s no one qualified enough to get that job done.

It really just felt like a huge part of me went missing, and I felt like a robot, going about my day with no direction and no life.  I didn’t even pity myself because I knew how real that sadness was.  We had been apart more days than we had been together, but I have never missed him more.

I thought about how dumb I was to let go of what might have been the best I ever had and everything I ever deserved.  He gave meaning to things that otherwise might not matter to me at all–from entire cities we explored together, to simple daily tasks like brushing my teeth.

I sunk into my yoga mat and hoped to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it felt like happiness was far, far down the road.

Sadness, Anger, and a Pinch of Nostalgia

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” – Moliere

For days I questioned everything.  I wondered about the future, and compared him to anyone and everyone and each time came to the conclusion that I will never find better.

I was happy even while we lived countries, continents, cities, and states away, and when sad songs played.  I was happy even when we fought.  I felt lucky each time I heard a sad love story, or any sad story.  I was always so happy and positive because he let me be that way, no matter what.  And I was happy because we were my fairytale.  We were every cliché story and every cheesy romance I ever wanted.  How could I leave all of that behind?

I was happy no matter where in the world I was because I knew he thought of me and that in a matter of days or weeks, and sometimes months, we would be together again.  But this time the distance won.

These thoughts haunted me for days.  I felt so strongly and so much at once.  One second I was overcome with numbness and a complete lack of emotion, and the next I was livid.  I spent hours reading old conversations, browsing through pictures, and trying to go back to my favorite moments together…and then I would grow angry and bitter, thinking thoughts I knew were wrong.

I would read silly love notes that I scribbled on notebook pages in class from the semester when we first met, and I tortured myself with nostalgia, forcing my brain through this state of what I call sentimentality.  I wrote angry diary entries on notebook pages just to get my feelings out.

I was even more sad than before, because I missed him.  My favorite songs didn’t sound the same, and somehow they meant something completely different to me.  I ate nothing for days, except for the bowls of cereal I forced myself to have in the morning.  Everything I did throughout my day had no purpose, and the plans I had for the future disappeared.

I’ve always said missing anything is the worst feeling of all, and this experience has only confirmed that particular life theory of mine.  I could feel my heart shrinking in my chest.  I used a towel for my tears instead of wasting what could have been hundreds of tissues.  Every morning when I woke up and every night before I fell asleep I faced the same familiar wave of tears.

I tried to fill the void by distracting myself, only to find myself standing in dead ends.  I went to a party but somehow everyone knew and kept asking me how I was.  I tried to make new friends but felt guilty that I didn’t even care about their stories.  I made plans, booked conferences, and filled up my calendar, but I hardly looked forward to anything.

The few friends I told offered me every second of their days.  They surprised me with ice cream cones (into which I literally cried), cooked me grilled cheeses, bought me chocolate tours from Groupon, wrote me love letters, and made me margaritas.  They called me to talk for hours, sat on couches with me while I ate entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie, and they even developed a “Happiness Plan of Action”.  They reminded me of my strength, my bright future, and of all of the other fish in the sea.  My mom called me Xena the warrior.

Suddenly, I let myself feel a lot of love, but it was a different kind of love.

Gratitude

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami

One morning and once again, I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor bawling my eyes out while the live version of “Lovers’ Eyes” by Mumford & Sons played in the background.  I cried for way too long and waited patiently for my body to stop convulsing and for my breath to slow.

Then, this inevitable, beautiful moment happened.  I peeked through my tears and the photos on my wall looked more beautiful than I remembered.  I thought to myself, “Wow.  It’s pretty again.  I feel a little bit better.”  And I reached the point in crying where I found enlightenment.

I realized that the world is the same.  Mine is different, but the world is the same.  I still want the same things in life, and I will still get them because that’s what I deserve.  The point where crying of sadness turns into crying of happiness is one in which you realize that you can only be sad for so long; that crying and wallowing will get you nowhere.

My mom says that you shouldn’t be sad over a boy for more than seven days.  That’s seven days of wasting what could be a new life.  So I discovered my new life theory: I believe that every time you leave something behind, you become a different person.  Sometimes this change is automatic; you already are a different person because of this loss.  But other times, you have to find a new version of yourself.

Because this break-up was the logical decision and not exactly the decision I wanted, I know this new and different person in me won’t just emerge; I have to find her.  I have to shed the necessary layers to find this new version of myself.  I have to accept this.  I have to stop being sad and angry, and I have to start being thankful.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have been thankful for this relationship since we met on the 27th of January in 2011.  I have been thankful for every second we got to share both together and apart, and I will never stop being thankful.   I wore his shirt to bed one last time, and I have acknowledged that that might be the only closure I will ever get.

I don’t know what the future holds and I only wish the best for both of us.  I look forward to the day we might be friends and meet again, but right now I’m learning how to be thankful for the fact that who we were together is a thing of the past.

I’m grateful for the stories we have and for the life we had together.  I’m grateful that he gave me the best and because of that I will have the highest of standards a girl can have in a relationship.  I got to experience a lot of firsts and I couldn’t ask for better memories.  We always did the best we could and we always made the best of our distance.  It was beautiful, and it still is.  And my gratitude will not ever end because the last three years inspired me, and they will continue to.

This ending was our decision, and I feel lucky to feel lucky about it.